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Twisting in the Wind

As small wind turbines started to dot the metro Toledo landscape outside schools, universities, a zoo, and other public institutions, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur declared that she envisioned Northwest Ohio one day would be "the Saudi Arabia of wind."

So what happened?

Two major developments in the wind energy arena have left Toledo literally "twisting in the wind."

First, Cleveland beat Toledo to the punch in developing a fresh water wind farm on Lake Erie.

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland announced last May that the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo), a Cleveland-based non-profit corporation had developed a partnership with General Electric to establish the first operating offshore wind farm in the U.S.

GE will deploy its next-generation wind turbine-- five of them-- off Cleveland's shoreline. The gearless, direct-drive turbines can produce a total of 20 megawatts-- enough to power about 5,000 homes.

The Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force, chaired by Cuyahoga County's prosecutor, performed a feasibility study on the possibility of harnessing wind power on Lake Erie. That spurred interest in private investment from companies like GE.

According to the American Wind Energy Association's annual report, there are only seven offshore wind projects underway in the U.S.-- and the Northeast Ohio project is the only one planned on the Great Lakes.

The second announcement is a wind turbine components plant that will be built near Monroe, Michigan.

Ventower Industries is building a $22 million plant that will employ 160 people. According to 13-abc, Michigan put together an incentive package that beat a competing Ohio site. The plant is expected to open early next year and make 250 wind turbines each year.

It's not like Toledo's economic development officials aren't trying. Part of the federal stimulus package awarded locally includes a retro-fit at Ironhead Marine to allow for the manufacture of large wind turbine components that can be directly loaded onto lake freighters.

A lot of potential investors have quietly stopped through Northwest Ohio as port authority officials and others court their potential wind energy manufacturing operations. The credit crunch has not helped.

We can tout our skilled and productive workforce, our strategic transportation assets, and our great location all we want-- but the action is going elsewhere.

The bottom line is, it appears as if we have no study or strategy, such as what LEEDCo put together to show anyone that would make us the "Saudi Arabia of wind."